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  • Gayle Baker

Road Maintenance Trails and Triumphs: Welcoming Emcon's Operations Manager, Andrew

March 1

Fifteen joined this ASK Salt Spring gathering to welcome Andrew Gaetz, Operations Manager for Emcon, our road maintenance contractor. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, we asked Andrew what excited and delighted him. He immediately responded that he was very pleased that the recent vacuum sweeping of Ganges had gone so well, with only a few parked cars impeding the much-needed sweeping of our village streets. Also swept was an area of grave concern for cyclists: The barriers along the curves of Lower Ganges Road north of Booth Canal Road.

 

Emcon is contracted to sweep all major Salt Spring streets by May 15 and minor roads by June 15. This February 22 sweeping, requiring a large vacuum sweeper brought over from Vancouver Island, was over and above Emcon’s sweeping requirements. When Andrew was acknowledged for this unexpected gift, he commented that he fully-understood Salt Spring’s commitment to active transportation and was happy to do what he can to free our streets of the debris that is so dangerous to cyclists.

 

While Andrew’s span of responsibility is Vancouver Island from Chemainus south and all the Gulf Islands, participants heard Andrew repeatedly illustrate his efforts to listen to Salt Springers and do what he can to better maintain our roads. Constantly patrolling and monitoring all our roads, he and his crew do everything they can within their time and financial constraints.

 

That said, we also heard multiple times that, despite Andrew’s can do attitude, there is only so much that Emcon can do. Andrew and his crew are constantly cognizant of Salt Spring’s aged road infrastructure, with thousands of old and undersized culverts and too many roads desperately in need of repaving. Addressing all of these long-deferred projects would be a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) decision, likely requiring the provincial government to invest an enormous infusion of money.


Despite the challenges of our roads, we learned from Andrew that 2024 is slated to be a very big year for Salt Spring with multiple road projects, estimated by him to be in the $30-50 million range. Want to learn more about these projects? A MoTI website is being developed and will keep Salt Springers informed about all these exciting road projects and final budgets as well as welcoming questions. When asked for a glimpse of these projects, Ganges Hill and the Blackburn Bridge were, naturally, at the top of the list. Also included will be smaller projects like more work on Isabella Point Road and Vesuvius Bay Road at Tripp Road.

 

Andrew was asked what happens when a plugged private driveway culvert pours water onto the highway, often damaging it. As most know, our driveways and their culverts are our responsibility. But, when plugged culverts threaten to damage our roads, Emcon crew have been known to work to unplug them in an effort to save the road. While Emcon and MoTI are quite forgiving, Andrew reminded us that there could be repercussions for driveway owners that do not adequately maintain them, causing road damage.


When Andrew was asked if Emcon was going to address the persistent sinkhole near Embe Bakery, we learned that addressing this longstanding problem will likely be a part of the MoTI Ganges Hill project from Seaview to Cranberry Roads. When? Far more complicated than expected, land acquisition has been time consuming as well as very expensive. Additionally, unexpectedly serious drainage issues have resulted in culverts being required rather than relying on ditches. A June 2024 date for the beginning of construction has been mentioned, but Andrew could not comment as this project is being carried out directly by MoTI and does not involve Emcon.


Will Emcon fix the growing sinkhole before construction? Andrew and his crew are watching it grow and waiting to hear when construction will begin. . . .


Before we left our brief discussion of Ganges Hill, Andrew reminded us that a simple resurfacing would have been far easier. Its complications have largely resulted from the community-driven advocacy that has resulted in widening the road to accommodate 1.2 metre bike lanes. Even though these bike lanes are not as wide as the MoTI standards of 1.8 metres, we learned that Andrew believes that these bike lanes are largely the result of our local efforts.


There was acknowledgement for the three recently installed speed boards on Lower Ganges approaching the harbour, on Cushion Lake southbound before the beach, and North End Road before the St. Mary Lake beach.We learned that a fourth board will be installed on Ganges Hill during construction. They are the result of a collaboration between MoTI’s Area Manager Owen Page, CRD Engineer Dean Olafson, and ICBC’s Paul de Leur (providing much of the funding). (Thanks, Owen, Dean, and Paul!). And, kudos also to the Commissioners of the dissolved Transportation Commission who placed these speed reader boards as their top traffic calming priority.


Andrew was asked about the sections of North End Road that appear to be sliding into St. Mary Lake. He is well-aware of this apparent slippage and has asked for a Geotech Engineer to assess falling rock from the adjacent cliffside and, hopefully, also the road below. Unfortunately, Emcon only has the funding to resurface small stretches of road. Expected to be far more than a simple repaving issue, MoTI would have to allocate additional funds to fix it properly. Somewhat tongue in cheek, it was noted by a participant that roads, like Walker’s Hook, that actually fall into the water are quickly addressed as emergency-funded projects.

 

Concerning culverts, each year, Andrew replaces 100s of metres of end-of-life, undersized, culverts on Salt Spring, a portion of the estimated 12,000 culverts requiring replacement in Andrew’s area of responsibility. Every time a culvert is replaced, it is enlarged by a minimum of 25%. Salt Spring culverts are often being enlarged by 200%. He told us that once he has replaced each end-of-life culvert on Salt Spring, he will likely need to begin all over again as the replaced ones will have come to the end of their life by this time.


So, what resources does Andrew have for all Emcon’s responsibilities, ranging from culverts to potholes, small repaving projects, brush clearing, dust suppression, sweeping, snow removal, and sign replacement? With approximately $15 million per year for his entire area and 70 employees, Salt Spring has, as a result of the union’s collective agreement, a crew that has increased to 7-8 (somewhat season-dependent). Despite our housing crisis, our Salt Spring crew is complete and has been since Emcon took over from Main Road in 2019. That being said, skilled drivers are always welcomed to apply, especially for winter season!


In addition to all these on-going maintenance responsibilities, this funding also allows for the purchase of about 3,500 metric tonnes of asphalt for paving in Emcon’s entire area. Of this amount, Andrew allocates between 600 to 800 metric tonnes to Salt Spring projects, translating to 3,600 to 4,800 square metres of pavement each year.

 

How does Andrew decide which areas to address with his limited amount of asphalt? Focusing on main thoroughfares and bus routes, Atkins Road is in his sights, but no decision has been made. When Andrew was asked if he could put Drake Road on his list, due to the expected increase in population over the next few years, he bought up a very good point: Please wait until construction has been completed to ask. Any repaving would be torn up by construction trucks.


Andrew was asked how long a complete repaving lasts, and we learned that the average life span is 25-30 years, depending upon traffic types and volumes. Andrew suspects that some of Salt Spring Roads are far older than 30 years. When asked about the age of Fulford-Ganges Road, Andrew grimaced, with no idea, but suspecting it might have been 50 years since it was repaved. A participant pondered doing a Freedom of Information quest to ascertain the age of this road.


While these paving costs, as well as some normal maintenance responsibilities, are fairly easy to predict, the impacts of climate change are impossible to plan. With far colder winters and more severe droughts, snow removal, floods, and fires are unplanned strains on Emcon’s budget. When asked whether Salt Spring’s propensity for the far heavier electric vehicles will impact our road maintenance costs, Andrew admitted that he had not even considered this added climate-related challenge.


Participants asked Andrew about their particular road concern - often their own road. Andrew and his crew are familiar with virtually all these areas but did ask us to make sure to report our maintenance concerns to the Emcon Hazard Line (1-866-353-3136). Try it, it works!

 

When asked why Emcon does not fix potholes by cutting them out and heat sealing them, Andrew reminded us that this would result in approximately 10 rather than 100s of potholes being filled each day. The mix used to patch our potholes is specially designed for this use and our Emcon crew follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Andrew also reminded us that filling potholes is only a bandaid; roads pocked with potholes are the sure sign that repaving is needed.

And, talking of useless exercises. . . When MoTI tells Andrew to put more gravel on the MoTI-maintained upper stretch of Maxwell Road before it becomes a provincial park road, he complies. He generally places about 60 yards of gravel each year, only to have it chewed up by traffic and swept away at the first rain! If Andrew had his wish, the road would end after homes with a parking lot and trail for hikers. Although cognizant of the complexities and pushback of closing a road, Maxwell Road is a perfect example of energy and cost that result in only a fleeting improvement.

 

Despite the obvious energy and funding Andrew allocates to Salt Spring road needs, a participant reminded us that the Salt Spring and Southern Gulf Islands’ road funding needs are minimal when compared to the huge construction projects on Vancouver Island and the Mainland. It was asked how we could get our fair share of the funding.Reminding us of the millions expected to be spent on Salt Spring roads this year, Andrew also reminded us that any funding reallocations would be done by MoTI.


While easily overwhelmed by the daunting maintenance needs of our many roads, it was also acknowledged that MoTI does appear to be listening to Salt Spring: In addition to the millions of dollars slated to be spent this summer and attention to community advocacy concerning the widening of Ganges Hill, MoTi also bent its longtime practice by recently lowering our Ganges speed limits to 30 Kmh, something those in the know said would never happen.


The message: Keep advocating, MoTI appears to listen.


As 1:00 had already arrived, we applauded Andrew, thanking him for cheerfully listening to our laments, responding with honesty, placing Salt Spring needs high on his priority list, not letting discouragement about the condition of our roads deter him, and visiting us at ASK Salt Spring every year. (Thank-you, Andrew!)  


Please join us this Friday, March 8, 11-1, in the SIMS (former Middle School) classroom next to the Boardroom to welcome two of your Local Community Commissioners, Gary Holman and Brian Webster.


What would you like to ask them?

  • Now that 2024 budget deliberations have concluded, what changes to the deliberation process would you like to see in the 2025 budget?

  • What is your top priority or 2024?

  • What do you see as the biggest challenges the Local Community Commission (LCC) will face this year?

  • Can you tell us what role you expect the LCC to have with affordable/worker housing?

  • And?


Please join us to welcome Brian and Gary this Friday!


Just in case you are interested. . . .This report has been written by Gayle Baker, Ph. D., founder of ASK Salt Spring, currently also a Salt Spring Local Community Commissioner. This report has also been edited by this week’s special guest.


Did you know that ASK Salt Spring now has an Event Organizer? Grant Fredrickson has stepped up to identify special guests and coordinate their visits. . . Wahoo!


Who else would like to help? Maybe you would like to take charge of weekly media? Do you see yourself facilitating? How about writing reports? Or. . . ?


Please join us making ASK Salt Spring ever better!


Big News:

ASK Salt Spring now has ongoing funding! A heartfelt THANK-YOU to the Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA) and its Executive Director, Peter Allen !!!


***New fundraising option***

You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.


Any questions, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com


Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings,

monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings? Asksaltspring.com.

Want to listen to interviews of our special guests?ASK Salt Spring Answered


Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We love your receipts! Remember: #15


Our Partners. . . .

Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA), Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards and Island Savings' Simple Generosity grant.

A heartfelt Thank-You!


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